Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan on Sunday to join the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality, the second annual event for the Reclaim Pride Coalition and the first to take place in the pandemic-related absence of the city's mainstream Pride celebration.
Marchers gathered in lower Manhattan’s Foley Square, where federal and state courthouses were still covered in anti-police graffiti from protests earlier this month. Protesters then marched west, and then north up Sixth Avenue, before marching by the historic Stonewall Inn and into Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.
Organizers estimated that 50,000 protesters joined the march.
When the marchers arrived at their final destination — a rally in Washington Square Park — they allegedly faced police brutality, according to witnesses and march organizers. Videos posted to social media and aired on local TV stations also appear to show police shoving and swinging batons at protesters with at least one officer using pepper spray.
NBC New York reported that after the “massive march,” the event took “a violent turn” after demonstrators began “shoving matches with police.” A cameraman for the station caught on tape a police officer shoving a demonstrator roughly off a bicycle with a baton and reporter Chris Glorioso asked the police present for comment on the shoving, reporting “still no context on that.”
According to NBC New York, the New York City Police Department confirmed three people were arrested for allegedly assaulting officers, adding that the use of pepper spray and force on protesters transpired after cops tried to arrest one of them for allegedly vandalizing a police vehicle.
The Reclaim Pride Coalition released a statement following the march alleging that as protesters passed by the Stonewall Inn — the site of the iconic 1969 Stonewall uprising, where patrons of the gay bar fought back against the NYPD amid yet another raid — and were entering Washington Square Park, “an NYPD officer stepped forward to arrest a marcher (reason unknown and the NYPD won’t say), and a crowd gathered to object, chanting ‘Let him go.’”
“Suddenly, a large crowd of NYPD officers rushed in and attacked with pepper spray. All that did was increase the crowd yelling at them to ‘go home,’ while marchers nursed their pepper spray wounds,” the statement read. “One NYPD member reached out to slam a woman on a bicycle to the ground. Other marchers were punched and violently shoved.”
Jake Tolan, one of the Queer Liberation March’s organizers, said the turn of events did not surprise him and said the NYPD “should be abolished.”
"I wish that I could say what I saw today was shocking, but how could I reasonably expect anything else from the NYPD?” Tolan said, according to the Reclaim Pride Coalition statement. "51 years after the Stonewall Rebellion, the NYPD is still responding to peaceful, powerful, righteous queer joy with pepper spray, batons, and handcuffs.”
Marti Gould Cummings, an LGBTQ activist and candidate for New York City Council, said they were present when the police pepper sprayed the crowd. As Cummings, who uses they/them pronouns, and their husband were leaving the rally on the north side of Washington Square Park, “everyone started putting their hands up and saying, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,’ and everyone took a knee, and we saw cops moving in, which was weird, because it was a calm, beautiful, peaceful day,” they said.
“The next thing we know, they were pushing people, some folks got pepper sprayed right in front of us,” Cummings said. “It was crazy! On the anniversary of Stonewall? Like, really?”